Values are the underlying beliefs that cause a church to do what it does–how its spends its time, money, and energy; how it decides what to say “yes” and “no” to. A church can adopt a vision, but if that vision isn’t supported by the necessary values, it will simply be an unrealized dream.
So what are your church’s values? If you aren’t sure, review your Church Council agenda for this past year’s meetings. Look at what’s on your church’s calendar. Study your budget.
As I’ve worked with churches, I have found that excellence is frequently one of the five or so values that a church has on its list. These churches value excellence, meaning that everything they do should be done with excellence. For years I thought that was a healthy value for a church to have, until that premise was challenged by RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio. You see this church had been embracing that value for years. It invested significantly in doing every ministry with excellence, especially its weekly worship services. As a result, it attracted thousands from its surrounding community each week.
A few years ago, the leadership of the church decided that it needed to make a significant course correction. They realized that the church was expending about 70% of its energy in providing its weekend services, while neglecting its intentional discipleship and evangelism with those outside the church’s walls. As a result, they decided to set a goal that the church would eventually expend only 30% of its energy in its worship services and 70% in outreach and evangelism.
Establishing Go Communities was one key outcome of this decision. (See last week’s blog for more on these.) Another outcome was to intentionally drop excellence as one of the church’s values because leaders knew that they couldn’t produce worship services at the same level of quality while giving them 40% less resourcing. They had to sacrifice excellence in worship to shift the church into a much more outward-focused missional orientation. As a result, the videos used in worship aren’t quite as good as they were, the music isn’t as polished, the equipment not quite as state-of-the-art. And the church immediately experienced a 600 drop in weekly worship attendance.
However, by sacrificing its value of excellence, the church has been able to engage an ever-growing percentage of its members in outreach, rubbing shoulders with and discipling unchurched people in their neighborhoods. No longer do they think of church as just the weekly worship gatherings, but also the dozens of gatherings happening throughout their community.
The church’s lead pastor, Rev. Greg Nettle, says that a church shouldn’t focus on excellence for excellence’s sake, but rather on doing everything at the level of quality that is expected by the ministry context. So, although God deserves us striving to do our best, striving for excellence can actually inhibit us from focusing our limited time, energy, and resources in other areas where they actually need to go.
So what role does excellence have in your church? — Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development